Live Review: Dragonforce deliver serious unserious guitar hero worship to Brighton Music Hall


You learn stuff when you meander outside your bubble.

For instance, if you’re the sort of fairweather metalhead who latched onto Dragonforce a decade ago when “Through The Fire And Flames” inflicted legions of Guitar Hero players with carpal tunnel, then lost interest once the novelty wore out (Hi!), maybe you assume the UK power metal outfit’s days of commercial viability have come and gone. Original singer ZP Theart checked out in 2010, and currently confuses audiences who showed up expecting Sebastian Bach as the frontman of Skid Row. Dragonforce took another PR hit in 2014 when Noisey grilled them about the next-level racism and homophobia exposed by Demoniac — a project founding guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman played in during their late teenage years in New Zealand. (In the interview, Totman shrugs off Demoniac’s nazi bullshit as kids saying stupid things for shock value. In fairness, that’s pretty much what we here in New England say when someone asks us why we lionized self-proclaimed serial rapist GG Allin. So, y’know, I guess it’s good that we’re all trying to do better?)

You also might notice that this tour behind Dragonforce album number seven — May’s Reaching Into Infinity — stopped into the 476-capacity Brighton Music Hall instead of The House of Blues or the Worcester Palladium on Friday (July 21), and assume their audience has diminished. Maybe there’s a smidgen of truth there, but half-ironic appreciation on a massive scale isn’t always preferable to brutally earnest appreciation on a smaller scale.

Also, Dragonforce sold the fuck right out of BMH, so it’s not as if they’ll play for 10 people at Otto’s Tiki Bar on a Tuesday anytime soon. Former WWE Champion Chris Jericho took over marvelously highfalutin’ vocal stylings following Theart’s departure, and I don’t care what the internet claims or how well “Marc Hudson” can fake a British accent, that man is a Canadian, as well as the onetime “Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla,” “Lionheart” Chris Jericho. The similarities don’t appear obvious in photos, but especially due to “Hudson” and Jericho sharing the same benignly confrontational onstage mannerisms, close up, the resemblance is unmistakable.

It’s possible the man who Kevin Owens recently power bombed into semi-retirement is an imposter of some sort. But my guess is “Hudson” is an adrift Jericho counterpart from a parallel Earth where “Y2J” decided to focus his career on singing, rather than pretending to fight.

Speaking of seeming implausibility, Li and Totman’s barely-believable virtuosity might’ve been Dragonforce’s primary selling point when Inhuman Rampage crossed over in 2006. Since then they’ve had an additional 11 years to practice, so basically they went from really, really good at guitar to really, really, really good at guitar. Following feats of fretboard gymnastics, Li shot the rambunctious BMH crowd “Neat, huh?” glances, and now-and-again, stared as his hands with a wide-eyed expression that seemed to say, “Whoa! Look what I’m doing! This is nuts!” One could argue Herman Li reacted completely appropriately. His solos are indeed neat, and often pretty nuts.

Paradoxically, non-stop blast beats and wankery can grow tiresome remarkably quickly, but Dragonforce have been doing this job long enough to figure out a Weird Trick or two to keep casual listeners engaged throughout a two-hour live show. “Hudson” and bassist Frédéric Leclercq devoted an interlude to a medley including Ken’s theme from Street Fighter 2, the Green Hill Zone music from Sonic The Hedgehog, and a third video game ditty I didn’t recognize but might’ve been from Super Mario 2. During the pre-encore closer, the band correctly acknowledged three guys at the bar in the far corner of the room for shouting “CRY THUNDER” about as loudly as 474 other revelers put together, which was not at all any minor feat on the part of the trio. Dragonforce also invited a young fan who confessed he only “kind of” knew the words onstage to belt out a round of the chorus.

The bulk of venerable metal bands might not indulge such shenanigans, but Dragonforce — who’re heart-attack serious about the composition of a decisively unserious product — are only behooved by looking goofy now and again.

And for the purposes of keeping things lively, it didn’t hurt that this metal show only had two bands instead of, like, five. Of course Once Human’s take on death metal is bleak and harsh and makes Dragonforce sound even glossier by comparison, but the LA sextet nonetheless resonates with more joviality than some of their more-brutaler-more-darker-than-thou contemporaries. The idea of writing about Once Human’s “pop sensibility” makes me wants to impale my own hands on rusty nails, plus that would be misleading. But maybe it’s accurate to say Once Human aim to maximize their brutality while also remaining fun to listen to?

Featured photo by Barry Thompson, who tweets about Batman and his cat @barelytomson.